Get Decadent at the Most Indulgent, End-of-Summer Gay Party in the USA
This is Labor Day, Southern style.
New Orleans could be called a city of indulgence—maybe even overindulgence at times. But every year, flirty, flamboyant, and festive New Orleans locals and visitors from around the globe go particularly hard. One singular gay event each September has raised the bar, pushed the envelope, and sometimes gleefully crossed the line of extravagant revelry: Southern Decadence.
We say gay not as an oversight of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, but because historically the majority of Southern Decadence participants identify as gay men. Either way, this multi-day, nonstop party is the perfect chance for the community to have a good time from the moment we wake up till we stumble back to our hotel for a three-hour nighttime nap. It only takes one or two morning-after Bloody Marys and we’re ready to do the whole shebang all over again.
The first party was thrown in August 1972 (only three years after the world-changing Stonewall riots in the summer of ’69) when a group of friends (most of whom were gay) threw a going-away bash that doubled as a distraction from the balmy heat of the late-summer months. Initially a costume soirée titled “Southern Decadence Party: Come As Your Favorite Southern Decadent,” the party was destined to become a Labor Day weekend tradition.
In only its second year, the first-ever Southern Decadence parade took to the streets. Sure, it only consisted of about 15 people strutting their stuff between their home to a French Quarter bar, but the foundation was set for what would become one of the largest annual queer gatherings outside New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Sometimes referred to as “gay Mardi Gras”—and unlike Pride celebrations, which New Orleans hosts each June—Southern Decadence is solely focused on outrageousness and a queer interpretation of the city’s proclamation to “laissez les bons temps rouler” or let the good times roll.
Except for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the event has been a NOLA mainstay Labor Day after Labor Day. Last year was a scaled-back version, but things could get closer to pre-pandemic levels for the first time this year. In peak years, Southern Decadence has attracted more than 250,000 celebrants to the French Quarter for one continuous party taking place simultaneously in dozens of venues. It’s a love fest that welcomes people of all backgrounds to join this collective family of fun-seekers. Rainbow-striped flags appear in businesses throughout the city alerting LGBTQ+ people to places that welcome members of our community to eat, drink, and be as merry as humanly possible—often in as few clothes as possible, too.
This year’s main events take place from Thursday, September 1 to Monday, September 5, and we’ve gathered some highlights for you below. And don’t worry if you can’t make it to Southern Decadence this year; we’ve still got you covered—the following 11 ways to celebrate can also be done any time of year, to be as decadent as possible whenever you visit New Orleans.
Load up on caffeine, because there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything the Southern Decadence planners have in store for you. The event listings at southerndecadence.net and gaynola.com continue to get updated until right before the official weekend, so check back often for dozens of opportunities to let your freak flag fly.
Here’s but a taste of the can’t-miss events: Lust Filth III (an uncensored performance art event) on Thursday, September 1; the Renegade Bears Pool Party on Friday, September 2; the New Orleans Pride Run +Walk, Drag Brunch on the Creole Queen riverboat, and Horse Meat Disco on Saturday, September 3; the Southern Decadence Parade through the French Quarter on Sunday, September 4; and the Leftover Bitches Survivors Bar Crawl on Monday, September 5.
Sleep in pure opulence
Of course, one of the first items on your vacation agenda should be securing a hotel. And keeping with the whole decadent theme, we have three favorites that offer luxury accommodations and impeccable service no matter which room you book. Though you can really live like royalty in one of these properties’ ultra-deluxe suites.
At the recently debuted Four Seasons New Orleans, every possible wish can be granted by the hotel concierge, whether you’re looking for a private concert at the world-famous Preservation Hall, a private streetcar ride through the city, or drinks with a famous local chef followed by a private dinner. Book the 17th floor Presidential Suite and you’ll have more than 2,400 square feet to take in different views of the French Quarter and the rest of the city, plus your own ensuite fitness room to work off some of the liquid decadence you’ll be enjoying.
Nearby, Virgin Hotels New Orleans allows you to live like a billionaire in Sir Richard’s Flat, named in honor of Virgin founder Richard Branson. The sprawling spa-like bathroom alone will make you want to add an extra night or two to your stay, plus if you join Virgin’s insider program, The Know, you’ll get free drinks in the bar for an hour every afternoon.
Windsor Court Hotel continues the British experience with fit-for-a-queen accommodations (and one of the best club-level lounges anywhere). Their 2,780-square-foot, two-bedroom James J. Coleman, Jr. Presidential Suite offers over-the-top amenities, including Italian marble floors, a private library, fireplace, baby grand piano, and museum-worthy original artwork.
New Orleans has been a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people for decades, and despite its geographical location in the deepest of the Deep South, it’s home to a whopping 18 LGBTQ+ bars. Everything you could ever imagine can be found once inside (or on the balconies overlooking the partiers below), whether you’re looking for chiseled male strippers (bring your cash tips!), a friendly game of pool with friends, raucous drag shows, or a high-energy dance club to boogie the night away.
Tujague’s is the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans (dating back to 1856) and the birthplace of brunch. The late-morning meal used to be called a “Butcher’s Breakfast,” but lasted for hours just like ours do today.
The restaurant is also the originator of two classic cocktails: Grasshopper and Whiskey Punch, so work at least one of those in between sips of mimosa. During brunch, start with the soup trio for a nice tasting of traditional turtle soup alongside both a gumbo and soup du jour. For entrées, try the Cochon de Lait Benedict, made with buttermilk biscuits topped with tender pork, poached eggs, and choron sauce.
Antique shops abound in the Crescent City, but there’s no place like M.S. Rau, a family-run business that’s been in operation since 1912. The outside is rather unassuming and you might walk right by it while strolling Royal Street. But once inside its 40,000 square feet across multiple floors, you’ll be transported to a world of opulence that has to be seen to be believed.
Among the over-3,000 items on display, you can get up close and personal with Elvis’ gold and diamond watch, a $1.985 million 14K gold and semi-precious stone chess set, or an original Warhol, Picasso, or Norman Rockwell to hang on your wall if you’re ready to ditch that Nagel print you’ve had since college. Even if you don’t have the cash to shell out for an original masterwork, M.S. Rau is worth a visit to see museum quality pieces at every turn.
The Spa at the Four Seasons is the latest and greatest top-tier sanctuary, and as you’d expect from Four Seasons, it’s a place to truly pamper yourself and escape the cacophony of the city for a few tranquil hours. Among the signature experiences is the Southern Gentleman, a 100-minute treatment that can be enjoyed by anyone of any gender with a love of whiskey. It’s inspired by ingredients in the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac, and includes a deep-tissue massage and exfoliating treatment. The whole thing ends with a real Sazerac and bar snacks to be enjoyed in the relaxation lounge and its adjacent balcony overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. And before you leave the property, if you’re not spending the night, a visit to the stunning Chandelier Bar in the lobby is a decadent must.
Bottomless mimosa brunches aren’t anything new, but if you’ve been paying attention, you’re typically downing bottle after bottle of the cheapest sparkling wine available (hence the worse-than-usual hangovers the next day). But at Virgin Hotels New Orleans, you can kick off the weekend with a Friday-only brunch featuring $60 bottomless Veuve Clicquot, a high-quality brand that typically goes for at least $150 per bottle in restaurants. So feel free to enjoy as much as you wish, but try to act a little bit fancy if you can.
Saints Peter and Paul Church and its accompanying rectory were built in 1860. Later in the century, a convent and school were added to the grounds. Today, the historic buildings operate as Hotel Peter and Paul. Walk through the door and you might expect to see ghosts roam the halls of the former Catholic facility, but you can definitely indulge other types of spirits. In the The Elysian Bar, Cafe, and Courtyard, all housed in the former rectory, order up a site-appropriate Holy Roller Hazy Juice IPA or a refreshing Mother Superior cocktail—all while imagining what one of the real nuns might be thinking as you knock back some boozy beverages in their former hallowed spaces.
The best fried chicken in New Orleans will forever be a hotly debated topic and we've tried more than our fair share of crispy, crunchy yardbird in our many visits to the city. But this writer’s absolute favorite, hands down, is the fried chicken at Coop’s Place, an adults-only hole-in-wall at the edge of the French Quarter with some insanely good fried chicken.
For a tour of top NOLA flavors, however, you can get the Coop’s Taste Plate, which features a piece of fried chicken along with shrimp creole, rabbit and sausage jambalaya, and red beans and rice. Sit at the bar and ask for Stefanie—she’ll treat you right, even though the Coop’s staff are known for their playful rudeness.
Trixie Minx knows everything about the art of the tease. And her cast of burlesque dancers puts on shows all over the city, including Fleur de Tease,Burgundy Burlesque, and Burlesque Ballroom, each bringing the playfully seductive artform to open-minded people ready to let loose and laugh—a lot—as comedy and sexuality join to become a real tour de force.
Other shows feature drag performers headlining everything from drag brunch to lip-sync extravaganzas in spaces other than traditional gay bars, but the common thread is a celebration of femininity and the power of self-expression.
Being decadent doesn’t necessarily mean depleting your savings account. But you can get a lot of dough for very little cash at one of the best neighborhood po-boy joints, Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Since 1911, they’ve been feeding hungry locals and visitors some truly massive sandwiches loaded with fried shrimp, fried oysters, roast beef, or alligator sausage. A large sandwich will never cost you more than $20 depending on the protein, but they weigh enough that you can do a few bicep curls before taking your first bite.
“The room is spinning!” may be one of the most common phrases in New Orleans, but at the Carousel Bar inside Hotel Monteleone, even perfectly sober citizens can exclaim the same thing. That’s because the ornate bar makes one revolution every 15 minutes. So get the most out of snagging a prime seat on the carousel by indulging in a Sazerac de Forge, a gorgeous version of the city’s official cocktail made with fine Sazerac de Forge et Fil cognac, rumored to be the spirit base used in the original Sazerac way back in 1850. You can finally enjoy an iconic drink at an iconic bar, and go for a ride all at the same time.